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Inescapable

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Adam Parrish hooked his fingers into the chain link. Behind him, Ronan Lynch muttered a delicious swear.

“It's not that far,” Adam said. He looked over his shoulder. The half-light gouged hollows beneath Ronan's eyes.

Ronan said, “It's not the distance, Parrish. It's the miles and miles of junk.”

What he didn't say but they both knew was that the path took them perilously close to the trailer park where Adam once lived. And while, yes, technically they would pass within sight of the single-wide where Adam grew up, with the draining light of evening, Robert Parrish would be ten beers in at Callahan's Roadhouse, so they were safe.

Adam jammed his toes into the chain, hauling himself up a few feet. For a second, he pondered the width of his dusty sneakers, how climbing this fence had been easier when he was younger, when fear and the need to escape overcame anemic upper body strength. He reached the top, swung his legs over, and dropped, not checking to see if Ronan would follow. He knew he would. That was an inescapable truth.

Heartbeats later, the sound of grating metal betrayed Ronan's ascent. Adam walked ahead into the dusky clearing, leaving a space for Ronan to land. When he did, they stood side-by-side, surveying the rust-scabbed kingdom of the junkyard.

Beside him, Ronan shifted, uncertain. Adam savored it, the subtle knowledge that Ronan Lynch, the Greywaren – an Aglionby boy who never cared for fitting in – was off his footing. In this towering, toppling necropolis, Ronan Lynch would have to rely on him.

Ronan extracted the sleek, sharp LED flashlight from his pocket. Adam lay a hand across his.

“Not yet,” Adam said. He jerked his head in the direction of their path. “Wait til we're in.”

Ronan rolled his shoulders, but he did as Adam asked.

As they entered the labyrinth, the scent of Cabeswater filled him, the smell of soil and storms and roots after rain. Beneath it lay the blood-scent of corroded metal. Adam fought the temptation to run his palms over the hoods and fenders of the wrecked beasts huddling around them. In the weak twilight, he knew he wouldn't see the snags and twists that could cut him. But he remembered his childhood, running here, wild and barefoot, his breath tearing through his lungs. He remembered not caring about tetanus, only about hiding and escape.

Ronan said, “You came here a lot.”

“All the time,” Adam said. “When I got older, I came here to find parts. I let myself forget about the place we're going.”

Adam waited for a challenge to his words, for something snide about willful forgetting. Ronan waited for a direction, and in the failing dusk, Adam led the way.

Taking these paths at a walking pace felt at once fearless and alien. He placed each step with care, sensing rather than hearing Ronan behind him. The high iron walls blotted out the sound, dulling it to flat notes that sometimes moaned through fractured windshields and broken wheel wells. Stars pricked the pinking sky. Somewhere far off, thunder grumbled. Somewhere nearer, a car engine cranked and cranked but refused to turn over.

Ronan hummed. The tune was at once familiar and disjointed, the product of nerves and excitement. And then, with a snap of his wrist, Ronan vised a hand on Adam's elbow.

“Listen,” Ronan hissed. His teeth glinted, bleached as bones in a graveyard.

Adam twisted his head, inclining his good ear in the direction of Ronan's nod. He bobbed his head, once. “Dogs,” he said.

“Oh, dogs,” Ronan said, in the way someone would say, “Oh, a tax audit,” or “Oh, the plague.”

“Just keep quiet,” Adam assured him. “They almost never chased me.”

Ronan flicked on the flashlight, stabbing its light down the path. The beam showed a deadend of gutted pickups jostling toward the sky. He prowled forward, a caged animal. He growled, “Almost?”

Adam shrugged. Inwardly, he delighted in the wiry tension of Ronan's restlessness. “C'mon,” he said. He jutted his chin, up, in the direction of the dead end.

“More climbing?” Ronan asked.

“Yes,” Adam answered. He strode forward, placing his hands on the tailgate of a Chevy. He lifted himself, finding toeholds on fenders and trailer hitches and door mounts. Behind him, Ronan made a guttural noise. Then the wall of metal sighed with the weight of Ronan's body mincing up behind him. The flashlight glow bounced and bobbled from Ronan's hip pocket, sending swipes of uneven light across the wreckage.

At the top, Adam swung astride and waited. Ronan reached, and Adam gripped his hands to haul him up the final feet until they both perched, knee to knee, on a crumpled truck bed.

Ronan drew a breath. He scanned the surrounding jags and sweeps of the junkyard from this, its highest peak. Adam watched him, watched the rise and fall of his chest beneath the dirt-streaked folds of his designer t-shirt. The skin around Ronan's eyes tightened as he took it all in – Adam Parrish's childhood refuge, an empire of trash.

As he imagined what Ronan might be thinking at that moment, Adam realized the savage connection he felt to this place, as real and as tangible as his link to Cabeswater. But Cabeswater felt like the tender shoots of waking grasses, and this place was the engine oil beneath his nails. Still earth, still ancient, still a puzzle dreaming to be solved.

All at once, Adam doubted his decision to bring Ronan here. He wondered again what Ronan might think. Ronan, who dreamed such magical impossibility into existence, who had lived on the border of magic his entire life. What beauty could he possibly see in a place like this?

He met Ronan's eyes at last. At least he thought their eyes met. But in the now-full dark, he saw only the sharp sockets of Ronan's eyes, a death mask carved from cold, white stone. The twists of Ronan's tattoo twined up from his collar, black against black, and Adam's fingers itched to trace them.

Ronan's fingers twitched. He cleared his throat, a tender sound. He said, “Carthao delenda est, Parrish.”

Adam knew this one: Carthage must be destroyed. It meant whatever Adam was going to do, Ronan would be with him. But the duality of the sentiment wasn't lost on either of them. Beneath their solidarity lay the promise of destruction.

“This last part's a bit tricky,” Adam warned.

Ronan swiped a hand, a dismissive slash.

“Fine,” Adam said. He slid to the back of the truck bed and angled over, trailing his feet into the murky darkness. His heels found a half-inch of steel. He tested it. It sprung tightly beneath him. He sidled sideways, fingers trailing along the hunched carapace of a flattened Honda until he could twist around and climb. Ronan was above him now, the flashlight jouncing oblong arcs against bleached axles and bumpers.

Adam dropped the final feet to the pebble path. He smeared his sweaty hands on his jeans. He heard an echo, then a scrabbling, and then the roar of dogs as they pummeled forward, their nails skittering on the hard-packed soil.

Ronan landed beside him, his hands hooking into Adam's collar.

“Fucking run,” Ronan yelled. Adam only had time to blink before Ronan shoved him forward.

Tears streamed from Adam's eyes as he ran, darting hard left, then left again, then straight on, hurtling disemboweled armchairs and cracked TVs. The dogs chugged, their breathing labored, and though he couldn't see them, he thought he could smell them, a scent like sand after a lightning strike, all energy and anger.

Adam felt Ronan's skin brush his skin. He heard Ronan's breathing, and, incredibly, Ronan's high, thin laughter. That sound pushed Adam to run harder, to take each turn with the frenetic precision of a dancer. And Ronan followed, matching each step without a breath of hesitation.

And when they reached the edge, Adam could only shout, “Jump!” before he hit the lip of the abyss and disappeared.

Adam opened his eyes to blackness. Bubbles streamed like glistening beads as he cut the water with his hands. Whispers trembled inside him like raindrops on a spider's web. He felt his connection to Cabeswater strengthen here, among the moss and water-quiet of the pool. He remembered the hot burning of his throat as a child, when he dived here to outrun his tears, when part of him hoped the pool would swallow him and put an end to the wreck that was his life.

How much would he have missed if the pool had granted his wish? Adam thought. A thousand busted lips and hidden bruises, yes, but also Gansey and Blue and Noah and Glendower. Also 300 Fox Way and Persephone and Aglionby and the constant need to push, push, push. And Ronan. Always Ronan, who would prod and torment and encourage and never judge.

Adam broke with a burst from the surface, his breaths wild and ragged. Ronan was there, ten feet away and treading water with the sure, swift strokes of a boy who had once been on the swim team. Ronan gazed across the distance, his nose like a blade pressed against the water's surface, his brows drawn in dangerous angles above his empty eyes. A pale radiance tumbled in a loose spiral beneath him, and they watched it fall away, growing fainter with every revolution.

“The flashlight?” Adam coughed.

“Dropped it,” Ronan said.

Adam laughed, a stunned staccato. He thought of how expensive it had been, how Adam had insisted they didn't need it, how they wouldn't have it for the trek back to Ronan's BMW when they did need it, and how Adam would have to lead the way.

Silent seconds lapsed as they listened for the dogs on the quarry's rim.

They were gone, Adam knew.

He breathed in and out, a steady, slow unspooling. Then as Ronan swam to join him, every exhalation relaxed into laughter.

When they were within an arm's length, Ronan reached and looped their fingers. He said, “This is the place you wanted me to see?”

Adam nodded, once. I am unknowable, he thought. Unknowable, even to you.

Ronan spread his arms. His hand still rested in Adam's, their legs still churned and churned beneath them. The only light came from the sprinkling of the stars above and the drowned light beneath them, but it picked out the color of Ronan's eyes, the blue of a dreamer who is finally waking.

Ronan said, “Corvus oculum corvi non eruit.”

This one Adam didn't know, but he could translate it easily enough. “One raven knows another,” Adam said.

And before he could speak another word, Ronan brought his mouth to his.